[Lingtyp] Question about helpful design of a comparative, multilectal grammar

Sebastian Nordhoff sebastian.nordhoff at glottotopia.de
Mon Jun 18 07:03:06 UTC 2018

Dear Rasmus,
this is a very interesting topic. The most important principle to follow
would be, in my view, the separation of content and presentation.

This means that your text should code which passages refer to Ikoma,
Nata, Isenye, Ngoreme, respectively, but it should NOT say how this is
to be represented visually.

This will allow you to adapt the presentation of your content for
different audiences later on.  Depending on the audience, you could opt
for color coding, borders, fonts for the different varieties, or no
visual distinction at all.

This kind of semantic coding is the standard way of doing things in
HTML+CSS or LaTeX, but you can also use MS Word styles to achieve this.

One fundamental question would be whether the outcomes of this project
are to be represented in book form (linear representation), or whether a
non-linear approach (think Wikipedia) might be more useful. There are
arguments for both approaches.

In addition to the 2012 book which Peter Austin mentioned, you might
find the following article interesting:
Nordhoff, Sebastian. 2008. Electronic reference grammars for typology:
Challenges and solutions. Language Documentation & Conservation

Best wishes

On 06/15/2018 03:02 PM, Rasmus Bernander wrote:
> Dear members of the Lingtyp list,
> I’m currently involved in a project called “Linguistic Variation as an
> Indicator of Historical Relations and Language Contact: A Comparative
> grammar of four Mara Bantu languages (Tanzania)”. The project is funded by
> Koneen Säätiö and led by Dr. Lotta Aunio, Department of Languages,
> University of Helsinki. As implied in the title, the project aims at
> offering a linguistic description of four closely related (yet structurally
> versatile) Bantu varieties, Ikoma, Nata, Isenye and Ngoreme (known
> collectively as the Western Serengeti languages).  More information about
> the project can be found at this homepage:
> https://blogs.helsinki.fi/mara-project/
> We are struggling a bit with the question about the ideal way of designing
> the linguistic description. We would like to ask you ”Humans who read
> grammars”, i.e. you researchers who make typological (and/or comparative
> and/or specific theoretical) work and thus have great experience in reading
> grammars as well as extracting information from grammars: What would you
> consider being the most helpful and straightforward way to organize the
> structure of a multilectal grammar of this kind? We would prefer to find a
> way to systemize the data in a manner where we don’t have to prioritize one
> variety over the others and where we can also present the subsystems of the
> non-main varieties in a coherent way. It seems that some grammars use
> color/symbol coding for different varieties. Do you consider that helpful?
> Or do you have other, similar ideas on how one would succeed in creating a
> really clear and comprehensible comparative grammar?
> Many thanks in advance!
> /Rasmus Bernander
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